Iraqi forces have launched a ground offensive to retake a key ISIL-held area in the northern part of the country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.
“You either surrender, or die”, Abadi said in a televised speech announcing the operation early on Sunday.
He was addressing Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) fighters, who have been in control of the city since 2014.
Tal Afar and the surrounding area are among the last pockets of ISIL-held territory in Iraq, after victory was declared in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.
While the ground offensive has just been announced, “the operation has really been underway for the last few weeks”.
US-led coalition air strikes have been started targeting ISIL fighters in the city, just one month after securing victory in Mosul.
“In the last 48 hours, they’ve picked up that activity and destroyed a number of ISIL targets,” Bin Javaid said.
Iraqi officials believe there are between 1,400 and 1,600 ISIL fighters in the Tal Afar area, including many foreign fighters, according to Iraqi Brig. Gen. Yahia Rasool who spoke through an interpreter on Saturday.
“I don’t think it will be tougher than the battle of Mosul, taking into consideration the experience we got in Mosul,” he told reporters.
Retired US General Mark Kimmitt said that while retaking Tal Afar would be an “important milestone”, it would not mean final days for ISIL.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said on Saturday that refugees near the northern city of Tal Afar were faced with harsh conditions, and were stopped by authorities in east of Mosul and Kurdish areas as they tried to flee the fighting.